Jan 26, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Nerlens Noel (3) during the game against the LSU Tigers in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated LSU 75-70. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Uncovering Why the 2014 NBA Draft Class Dwarfs This Year's Class

By now, it’s become an involuntary refrain.

“Next year’s draft class puts this one to shame!”

Draft prognosticators preach it. College hoops analysts endorse it. Even casual fans have come to accept it, whether they know better or not.

But why? Precisely why does next year’s hypothetical draft class trump this year’s group? Is this just another case of the shiny, unopened toy on the store shelf looking more appealing than the used toy at home? Not quite.

The hype isn’t hyperbole. The 2013 draft class, as it stands now, is diluted. The 2014 group, as it projects one year ahead of schedule, should be stocked with superstar talent. NBA-hopeful underclassmen with first-round potential are better off bolting now while the field is watered down.

Here’s why:

Next year’s freshman class squashes this year’s

The 2012-13 freshman class was, shall we say, light on A-students. In terms of top-tier pro stock, it was nearly fruitless. Of the Top 10 incoming freshmen as ranked by Scout.com, five are returning to school, two have declared for the draft, two more (Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad) are expected to declare and one (Isaiah Austin) is on the fence. In all, only four true freshmen (Noel, Muhammad, Marcus Smart and Anthony Bennett) are sure-fire lottery picks. Only one (Noel) is a top-three cinch. By comparison, the top three selections in the 2012 NBA Draft were all true freshmen. The No. 1 draft prospect in this year’s freshman class is in the middle stages of recovery from a chilling ACL tear suffered in February. Case in point.

Next year’s abnormally strong incoming freshman class doesn’t figure to have the same dearth of NBA-ready talent. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon present star-caliber wing talent noticeably absent in this year’s class. Wiggins, the most talented high school prospect since LeBron James, and Parker, a former SI cover boy, each would’ve flown off the board ahead of anyone in this year’s draft, were they eligible. Factoring in Gordon, Julius Randle, Chris Walker, Noah Vonleh, Wayne Selden and the Harrison twins, the 2014 draft class could have eight or nine lottery picks from freshmen alone. Of those eight or nine, at least a half-dozen would be lotto picks in this year’s draft.

Vis-a-vis, the incoming freshman class exceeds the outgoing class in terms of top-end talent. Excluding the center position, at which the 2012 class has a big leg-up, the 2013 fraternity is better at each of the other four positions. That’s great for the short-term future of college basketball, not so good for those players bound for the NBA after next season.

Rising talent is good…real good

A pair of would-be lottery picks — Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein — have already decided to return. Several more are still up in the air (Otto Porter, Trey Burke, Marcus Smart). Between the incoming freshmen and rising sophomores, Kentucky may compromise half of next year’s lottery itself.

Nick Johnson (Arizona), Dez Wells (Maryland), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke), T.J. Warren (North Carolina State), Montrezl Harrell and Chane Behanan (Louisvillle), P.J. Hairston and James Michael-McAdoo (North Carolina), the army of talented Arizona bigs, Perry Ellis (if he ever finishes around the rim), Cory Jefferson (Baylor), Deonte Burton (Nevada), Dwight Powell (Stanford), Khem Birch (UNLV), Winston Shepard (San Diego State), Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado), Jerami Grant (Syracuse), Johnny O’Bryant III (LSU), Semaj Christon (Xavier), Jakarr Sampson (St. John’s), AJ Hammons (Purdue), Kyle Anderson (UCLA), Andre Hollins (Minnesota), Sam Dekker (Wisconsin), LeBryan Nash (Oklahoma State) and Jahii Carson (Arizona State) are all matriculating underclassmen with big-time upside.

That doesn’t even include likely returning seniors with first-round potential: C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Patric Young (Florida), Kendall Williams (New Mexico), Shabazz Napier (UConn), Akil Mitchell (Virginia), Jamil Wilson and Vander Blue (Marquette), CJ Wilcox (Washington), Andre Roberson (Colorado), Dewayne Dedmon (USC) and Juvonte Reddick (VCU).

Lottery talent sat out this year

Put the freshmen on hold for one minute and forget the rising stars that left you pining for more. There was lottery-caliber talent on the bench this season. If you haven’t heard of the names Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech to Florida) or Rodney Hood (Mississippi State to Duke), you will have by this time next year. Both wing players wield pro-ready bodies, NBA athleticism and rapidly developing games. Hell, Hood would be the most fluid, well-put-together offensive player in this year’s draft.

Junior college transfer Chris Jones (Louisville) would be the third-most NBA-ready point guard in the 2013 draft class, trailing only Marcus Smart and Trey Burke. He figures to be draft-bound after next season, provided everything goes according to plan. Physical marvels Yanick Moreira (SMU) and Keaneau Post (Missouri) are raw junior college centers with NBA upside. Both up-and-coming pivots could play their way into the first-round conversation if they blossom in their first seasons against NCAA competition. From what I gather, Jameel McKay (Marquette) is bubbling with one-and-done promise himself.

So yes, the buildup for the ’14 draft class is justified. Next year’s draft class will put this year’s group to shame.

If you’re an aspiring pro with reasonable first-round qualifications, this is your chance to go. Wait any longer, and the mighty storm of 2014 may blow those dreams away.

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